Art Licks Weekend
Venues throughout London
4 - 6 October 2013
By Maggie Gray
As the October art fairs approach London on a wave of visiting dealers, artists and collectors, a cacophony of art-world chatter rises to meet them. This year the city plays host to more than half a dozen art fairs during the - now very selectively-named - Frieze Week, most trying to cater to a particular niche of the international art set. The capital’s public institutions are opening their blockbusters; its commercial galleries are rolling out the big guns; and strategic pop-ups are sprung and ready. While undoubtedly one of London’s most exciting and significant weeks for the arts, it’s also one of the most bewildering, and the city itself (along with a vast number of its smaller events and exhibitions) can often be drowned out in the international din.
Art Licks Weekend, which launched yesterday evening and closes on Sunday, situates itself just outside of Frieze Week, making the most of the relative calm before the storm to roll out its city-wide programme. Billed as ‘a new festival to showcase the work of pioneering young artists, curators, galleries and project spaces in London’, it is launched on the back of the wider Art Licks project that encompasses a print magazine, online network, and local tours. The festival attempts to refocus attention on ‘local talent’: it includes over 70 London galleries and project spaces, gathered into loose geographical hubs (east London, the Bermondsey area, Peckham and the south), linked by a series of tours, events and performances, and listed carefully online.
The weekend is too big - and a bit too early in the month - to be dismissed as a satellite event to the fairs, and yet surely it benefits from October’s particular buzz. Holly Willats, Art Licks’ director, explained the festival to me as an attempt to celebrate the significant grassroots movements that fuel London’s creative scene but often get a meagre or non-existent share of exposure and funding. The timing, therefore, is very deliberate; it raises its own cheer before the louder art fair fanfare.
A number of the new art fairs clustered around Frieze make similar attempts to champion overlooked or under-represented talent - such as Sluice (a curator/artist-led fair in Bermondsey), or the wryly-named Other Art Fair which this year shares its venue with yet another one, Moniker. They explore what can be achieved through collaboration and a degree of inclusivity, adopting the art fair model while simultaneously trying to change it.
What’s significant about Art Licks’ approach is its ‘festival’ model. The venue-anchored art fair necessarily crams its exhibitors together, whereas the weekend’s programme has a whole city to play with, weaving its events and participants into the wider urban fabric. Unlike the inhabitants of the tent, airlifted at great expense into Regent’s Park for a short stop on the international circuit, Art Licks’ participants don’t have to pack up and leave; many of the displays and exhibitions will continue long after the end of the weekend, which means that, despite the busy immediate schedule, the whole event has a quieter and less urgent feel to it. Such alternative models of artistic support and networking - long term, discursive, and anchored in a particular place - are important in a month characterised by the opposite.